Tuesday, July 12, 2011

BC Liberals' carbon tax doesn't work - gasoline sales up year after year, Statistics Canada figures show

Vancouver traffic jam - Mark Woodbury photo
Carbon tax a smoking wreck on the highway

As gas prices go up, pollution does too. Time to fix it.
Bill Tieleman's 24 hours/The Tyee column

Tuesday July 12, 2011

By Bill Tieleman

"The carbon tax alone could cause a reduction in B.C.'s emissions in 2020 by up to three million tonnes of CO2 equivalent annually."

- B.C. Ministry of Finance website.

If the intent of the B.C. Liberal government's three-year-old carbon tax was to reduce gasoline consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, it's been a smoking wreck on the highway.

The carbon tax puts an additional tax of 5.56 cents per litre onto the already high price of gasoline, which includes many other federal, provincial and municipal taxes.

The gas tax went up another 1.1 cents a litre on July 1 -- with the intent of persuading consumers to reduce gasoline consumption.

It also applies to home heating fuels, natural gas and other petroleum products.

But there are a few problems. First, the carbon tax isn't working.

Statistics Canada figures tell the gassy tale of woe.

In 2010, B.C. motor gasoline sales were 4,695.7 in thousands of cubic metres compared to 4,529.8 in 2008 -- the first year the carbon tax started, on July 1.

There are many other factors that affect gas sales but one thing is clear -- selling more gas each year means greenhouse gas emissions are going up, not down.

Doesn't fund green improvements

Why the carbon tax isn't reducing consumption is simple. Increasing the price without providing drivers with more options on how to reduce their use of fuel doesn't work.

The B.C. carbon tax introduced with great fanfare by former B.C. Liberal premier Gordon Campbell is supposed to be revenue neutral, offsetting the increased cost of gas and other fuels with personal and corporate income tax cuts.

That means the nearly $1 billion in extra gas taxes annually doesn't fund public transit at all, nor does it provide financial incentives to buy more fuel-efficient vehicles, make your home more energy efficient or fund other environmental projects.

The second big problem is that the carbon tax is unfair, because it's a regressive consumption tax, like the Harmonized Sales Tax.

Lower and middle income British Columbians end up paying proportionately more of their limited budget on gas and heating fuel than wealthy people.

While there is a carbon tax rebate for very low income earners, the maximum personal credit is $115.50 and the personal income threshold for the maximum grant is $31,000.

That means the carbon tax makes you pay more than your fair share of the cost while you don't at least get the benefits of better public transit so you can leave the car at home to go to work, or get a tax break on buying a gas-miser vehicle with lower emissions.

How popular really?

Environmentalists went ga-ga in delirious joy when the carbon tax was introduced as the first in North America, hoping it would start a trend.

Instead, every other jurisdiction has rejected the idea and the federal Liberal Party's vaunted Green Shift plan for some form of carbon tax espoused by then-leader Stephane Dion in 2008 turned into a flaming electoral disaster.

Environmental group the Pembina Institute issued a news release optimistically titled "British Columbians support the carbon tax" just before the July 1 carbon tax increase citing a poll it commissioned that purported to show support for the controversial measure.

In fact, 33 per cent said the carbon tax has been "positive" for B.C. while 41 per cent said it was neutral. Another 27 per cent said it was "very negative" or "somewhat negative."

But the poll also shows that a majority -- 51 per cent of respondents -- do not want any further increases in the carbon tax after 2012's final 1.1 cent hike to 6.67 cents a litre goes ahead, while just 29 per cent support further gas and fuel tax increases.

The poll also shows that 49 per cent of respondents support using new carbon tax revenues for public transit, topped only by the 56 per cent who say use it for health and education.

That indicates the carbon tax could be fixed in a way most British Columbians would support.

But so long as it penalizes lower and middle income earners, not to mention northern and rural residents who simply have no public transit options at all but nonetheless have to pay the carbon tax, the reality is clear.

The carbon tax pledge is still a lot of hot air.



Anonymous said...

You don't speak for all of us Bill - I'm a student and definitely a "low-income earner" and, like a large proportion of low income earners (who you, I might add, are not one of), I get everywhere by bus or bike. The rebates I get far exceed the carbon tax I DON'T pay at the pump. The reason it may not be very effective is that it's not high enough. We're facing a global environmental catastrophe and we need strong measures to get people out of their cars. The carbon tax is a step in the right direction, and if it weren't for fear-mongering "all taxes are evil" politically motivated people in the media, the government could actually raise the tax to a more appropriate level where it could be effective. The tax needs to go up, but because of people like you, that would be political suicide. Sometimes, taking steps to avert a global crisis is more important than bleeding hearts upset that they have to pay an extra 6 cents per litre at the pump. This kind of thinking is holding us back!

Anonymous said...

Bill, this tax actually penalizes anyone who lives outside of a metropolitan area.

I live out in the country - some 40 miles out of Prince George. We have no amenities like local train service or bus routes - the city buses serve the city only, period.

I am retired and on a pesnion and have to pay this extra tax and I have no choice. For me a round trip to town is around $30. It is pretty evident that a retiree cannot do many trips at $30 a round trip - once a week for me, for shopping and essentials like doctor, dentist, vet etc.

It is sad but true, the BC Liberals have all but destroyed everything that was good about British Columbia. When the NDP were in power I had money in the bank and money left over at the end of the week. Nowadays the opposite it true - nothing in the bank and having to go from one weeks to the next, wondering if there will be enough money.

Sorry it is a little off the mark, but it is all relevant.

And yes, I did vote to extinguish the HST as well.


RonS said...

I believe the Carbon Tax was introduced for only 1 reason, to pay for the Olympics. Campbell and the rest of the LIbERalS knew the hammer would fall on the budget in 2009 so how better, along with the HST to show BCer's that they knew how to balance the budget. One thing they didn't count on, the collapse of the US economy and the rippel effect it has had around the world. Could these people, the LIbERalS run a peanut stand as old WAC used to say? Well the proof is in the pudding isn't it!

Ingmar Lee said...

"...Environmentalists went ga-ga in delirious joy when the carbon tax was introduced as the first in North America, hoping it would start a trend..."

This is a bunch of BS, Bill. Only total sell-out 'environmentalists' such as Tzeporah Berman, who went so far as to issue Campbell a trophy at Copenhagen for "green Leadership" had the slightest good thing to say about his bogus carbon tax. To everyone else in BC's enviro community, the whole thing was an insignificant Greenwashing scam. Green-minded folks across BC might have been impressed if the tax quadrupled the price of gas, -which is clearly what it will take if we are ever to turn around our hell-bent race towards global ecological suicide.

Anonymous said...

Tieleman is starting to sound more and more like a'Tea Party' member.

Philip Neves said...

I'm sorry Bill but I have to speak out. There is growing evidence that global warming is not man made. First the most compelling evidence is that Mars has also been warming. I suppose there are alot of people out there that think we are to blame on that planet too. CO2 is less then 2% of all the greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. It is the least abundant greenhouse gas and that is with all the cars putting it out every single day. The concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is approximatately 300 parts per million. 98% of the life on this planet requires CO2 to live. Plants live off of it. 50% of the CO2 we put out every year is removed from the atmosphere through natural processes on the planet.

To understand the impact CO2 can have on the atmosphere here are some more numbers. If you double the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere you will increase the temperature of the planet by 1 degree. The temperature growth caused by CO2 emissions is not catastrophic.

Anonymous said...

"Unknown" - you must be kidding. Please, for everyone's sake but also for your own, look up some real and information. There is a scientific consensus that CO2 leads to global warming and that humans are contributing to this. Viewpoints like yours are actually rather harmful, in my opinion.